GRAMBefore a solemn crowd, Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s best-known journalists, spoke defiantly. “Don’t go back into the journalists’ houses,” he said. “We don’t have tanks or weapons like you, but we can tell the people of Pakistan about the stories that emerge from inside your homes.”
Mir could have addressed journalists in Islamabad on Friday, but his words were not directed at them; they were a clear message to the almighty military establishment in Pakistan.
Days earlier, the attackers had broken into the home of YouTube journalist Asad Toor, whose videos they are critical of the ruling elite. They tied him up and tortured him, but not before allegedly posing as officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the dark security arm of the armed forces.
“They told me that the army and the ISI were not happy with my journalism,” says Toor after the attack. “While they tortured me, they asked me why I had named the ISI and the army in my reports.”
The Pakistani authorities have denied any involvement and claim that Toor organized the attack to seek political asylum abroad. On Tuesday, the Federal Investigation Agency filed a case against Toor for “defamation” of a government institution.
“There is no room for free speech and dissent,” says Toor. “If you criticize the military and Imran Khan, they face physical and online attacks. The level of frustration has skyrocketed. They cannot tolerate criticism from journalists ”.
In response to the attack, Mir was among a group of journalists who had gathered to express their anger at the increasing violence, intimidation and censorship of journalists who have dared to criticize the Khan government.
Mir’s speech, which was addressed to the military without mentioning his name, went viral. But on Monday, Mir was told that his popular chat program, which has been running for two decades, was going to be pulled from the Geo TV news channel. The last time this happened to Mir was in 2007, when military leader Pervez Musharraf, then President of Pakistan, declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution.
Mir is no stranger to intimidation for his reports – he still has two bullets in his body from an assassination attempt in 2014. But Mir says freedom of the press has deteriorated to one of the lowest points it has experienced in its decades. career.
“They have dropped so much,” says Mir, who did not want to directly name the military or the ISI. “They have even shared my daughter’s contact number on WhatsApp and asked others to threaten her. She is just a student. Now he is receiving threatening and intimidating messages. “
The decision to withdraw Mir’s program was condemned by many, including Amnesty International, which he said further undermines any protection of freedom of expression “in an already repressive environment.”
“Censorship, harassment and physical violence should not be the price that journalists pay for doing their job,” Amnesty said.
Since Khan came to power in 2018 with the backing of the military, journalists and civil rights groups have spoken out against the continuing erosion of press freedom. Violent attacks against journalists are on the rise. In April, a senior Pakistani journalist was shot and wounded in Islamabad, believed to have been targeted for his reports.
The army now routinely issues threats to ensure negative news about Khan’s army or government is dropped, critical journalists are fired, and opposition politicians and rallies are not covered.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, Pakistan is the country fifth most dangerous country for journalists. In its 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked 145th in Pakistan from 180 countries.
Pakistan’s media assault is about to become law as President Arif Alvi introduces some of the most draconian censorship seen in years, including a near-total ban on negative government or military coverage. .
Under these rules, existing press freedom laws will be repealed and a new authority will be given the power to inspect and raid any news organization, summon any journalist for an investigation, and cancel the license of a media network. Even journalists broadcasting on YouTube would need a license.
The ordinance also states that television news anchors may not broadcast views that are “detrimental to the ideology of Pakistan or the sovereignty, integrity or security of Pakistan” and that no story may be covered that “defames or ridicules the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or legislative or judicial organs of the state ”.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Federal Union of Journalists of Pakistan, describes the new regulation as “martial law of the media. We are entering the worst and darkest era of press freedom. At this time there is a lack of security for journalists both in their careers and in their lives.
“It is getting worse by the day. Journalists don’t feel safe here. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism